I was (mostly) a stay-at-home mom for 11 years. I was working outside of the home in another job that I loved when my oldest was born, but was desperate to be at home with my sweet baby. I cut my hours to part-time, but when he refused to take a bottle at daycare while I spent half of my part-time day pumping milk for him, I knew something had to change. I approached my boss with a boldness that, at 23, I had no idea I possessed, and asked him if I could work full-time from home. He agreed and off I went.
I was ecstatic to be home with my baby and get to keep my job and the income it provided. For two years I worked from home and raised my baby boy. For two years my life was blissful and being a stay-at-home mom was everything I’d ever dreamed it would be. But then, management changed at work and the awesome deal that I had with my boss vanished. I was required to come back to the office to work, as the new management believed telecommuters to be low in productivity. Especially mommy telecommuters.
By that time I had another baby boy and a mad case of postpartum depression. I ran the numbers and realized that after taxes, my full income would cover only childcare. And, following in the footsteps of his older brother, my baby wouldn’t take a bottle. Furthermore, there seemed to be something . . . different . . . about my second son that I wasn’t able to put my finger on then, but later found out was mild Asperger’s. Intuition told me that full-time daycare was not the right place for my delicate newborn and my calculator told me I’d be working simply to pay for the care of my children.
Leaving my job behind to stay at home full-time was a no-brainer, but that didn’t make it easy. I missed my job. I certainly missed the income. I missed the sense of self it gave me outside of motherhood. Still, I loved being with my children all day and had long before fell into a martyr mentality concerning their care and upbringing. I was the only one who could do it right and leaving them with another person, even for a date night, was akin to child abuse in my hormone-hazed mind.
And so, I did the mom thing. I worked part-time at my son’s preschool, teaching a class, doing the bookkeeping, spending my days caring for children. When it began to feel like work and it was no longer bringing me joy, I reminded myself that at least I was contributing to the income. But, the guilt of not contributing more was constantly on my shoulders. And, very secretly, I resented the loss of myself as motherhood overtook me and I worked hard to parent by the book, many times ignoring the stress that it caused.
Finding Work From Home Jobs; Losing Myself
I watched my boys grow, gave birth to their little brother and eventually gave up my job at the preschool. It was then that I almost obsessively looked for work that I could do from home. I made bits of cash here and there through various means, mostly writing, but there was never enough work or money to fulfill me. I knew I needed more, but didn’t dare say it out loud. What kind of mother actually wants to work?
Other moms I knew admitted that the more they were away from their children, the less they wanted to be with them. I had never found that to be true for myself–in fact, the opposite has remained true for me regardless of the age or stage–but the fear that I would spend less and less time with my babies out of a selfish desire to be fulfilled outside of motherhood kept me close to home, fighting the good fight and setting a brilliant example for attachment parents everywhere.
Finally, needing to have something to do that wasn’t childcare-related, I returned to school, finished my Bachelor’s, moved on to my Master’s and began home schooling my boys. By the time my youngest was 3 years old, I admitted to myself that being a stay-at-home mom was no longer everything I dreamed it would be. I wanted to work, but I felt enormous guilt for even considering it. I needed to work, due to the financial demands of our growing family, but I resented having to think about the finances when all of my time was spent caring for our children and our home.
I was smacked with reality after a particularly tough week of caring for my children, finishing my school work, cleaning the house and worrying about the finances. My husband asked me what he could do to help and I snapped, “Make enough money for me to hire a nanny and a housekeeper.”
There. I’d said it. The care of my children and our home was not all that I ever dreamed it to be. And we both knew then that I was not completely happy at home. And I knew that I would not be completely happy working outside of the home. My husband encouraged me to do whatever I needed to do, but the guilt, the shoulds, the picture in my head of the way things ought to be would not let me make that decision without a heap of grief.
Being a Stay-at-Home Mom is Bittersweet
I was tired of the grunt work involved in mothering, but I loved those impromptu snuggle sessions that could happen anytime of the day.
I hated the sibling rivalry between my youngest and my oldest, but I was grateful to be able to take my children to activities no matter the time of day.
I wanted to scream when the boys undid my housework within minutes of completion, but I loved teaching them how to cook.
I despised being woken early, kept up late and disturbed in the middle of the night, but I adored snuggling down for naps with a kid or two during the day.
I grew depressed in the isolation of work-at-home mothering and dreamed of a career, but I comforted myself with the flexibility that setting my own work schedule provided.
I envied working moms who seemed to feel no guilt about leaving their babies with another caregiver while they worked all day but convinced myself that the guilt was good for me because it kept me grounded and focused on mothering.
I began to judge more well-to-do, stay-at-home mom friends who had mother’s helpers and money for weekly massages while I worked to menu plan and DIY anything I could, but I told myself that the simple life was noble and felt oh-so-smugly-hipster and artsy with my homemade laundry detergent and re-purposed plastic containers.
Searching for Fulfillment Outside of Motherhood
And when I finally began my internship, after years of working toward my Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy, I felt choked and stifled and my health declined quickly. I soon discovered that I had picked a career in haste. In a desperate attempt to find value in myself outside of being a mother and wife, I had chosen a career for which I was unsuited. What I really wanted was my former job, the one I’d left because I had children.
After months of telling my clients to let go of “the shoulds” and to do what they really wanted to do with their life and relationships, I finally followed my own advice. I left the field of therapy, changed to a different Master’s degree program and began job hunting. I knew I wasn’t likely to find a job in my desired field that was flexible enough to allow me the best of both worlds. I would have to leave my children in the care of others, or alone as they got older, while I worked.
Letting Go of the “Shoulds”
It took me over a year to find my current job and while I waited, I tried to prepare myself for the overwhelming emotions I’d feel when I finally found it. Mostly, I tried to prepare myself for the guilt I’d feel when I went back to work and turned my family’s whole world upside down.
Before I found my current job, it became apparent that working outside of the home was no longer optional for me. My husband had suffered a job loss in the Spring of 2010 and had shortly thereafter accepted another position for less pay and longer hours. He was working 7 days per week and the bills were paid, but his health was declining from the 3rd shift work and no time off. Our family life was non-existent, as well.
I spent my days home schooling the boys, working on my Master’s, trying to keep the boys entertained and quiet so that my husband could sleep while I fretted over the budget. There was absolutely no joy in being a stay-at-home mom and no time anymore to work from home, even if the work had been readily available.
Finally, a job offer came through for the perfect job, I went to work, and my husband got a new, less demanding job. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to roll around in guilt or to ponder what “they” said might become of my children if they were raised by a working mom.
And you know what? Everything has gone incredibly well. We continue to home school our children, my younger has an amazing sitter who, on a daily basis, provides him with the kind of interaction and stimulation that fits his personality but isn’t possible for me to give him while also caring for his brothers, the house, and all of the demands that I had to meet as a work-at-home mom.
My oldest two are independent and responsible and accomplish more now than they did when I was there to tell them what to do and when to do it.
As for me, I can’t believe I waited so long to become a working mom! Truthfully, I believe that everything happens for a reason and that I needed my time as a stay-at-home mom to grow and to decide firmly what I wanted and what I didn’t. I can honestly say I have no regrets.
I’ve even begun to think about that fourth child that I always wanted and have often felt was missing from our life. After having my third son, I didn’t dare to have any more children, despite my original desire for four or five, because taking care of the three I already had was enough emotional and financial strain.
Spending Quality Time with My Children
The most fantastic part of my life as a working mom is that I am excited to see my children every day after work. When I pick up my youngest, I can’t wait to hear about the adventures he had during the day. When I come home to my oldest two, I look forward to our one-on-one time (something I never had time for when I was at home!) and they are happy to see me without having spent the day with me reminding them to do this and that. (The this and that are almost always completed when I get home and sometimes they find the time and energy to do extra around the house with no nagging whatsoever from dear old mom!)
The quantity of time I spend with my children has been diminished but the quality of our time together has increased.
I revel in my weekends and smile at my work-clothed reflection in the mirror on Monday mornings. I’m happy that dishes and laundry aren’t my main daily goals any longer. I seem to have more time to write these days, as well, despite the full-time job, half-time school work, home schooling on weekends and evenings and getting in that precious one-on-one time with my boys.
My marriage has gotten stronger, as well. I have to trust my husband to pull his weight when it comes to parenting and housework and I have to be very specific about my needs because there is no time to wait around for him to figure it out as we women tend to expect our men to do. Our communication is better now than it has been at any point during our marriage.
Does Your Life Bring You Joy?
This reflection of my time as a stay-at-home mom is not meant to convince other struggling stay-at-home moms that they should begin job hunting immediately. It’s not meant to encourage unhappy working moms to stay put in their career instead of being home with their children. From my honesty about my experience with motherhood, you should only take away that doing something because they say you should is never a good thing. If your motherhood experience is not bringing you joy, fix it! That might mean simply changing your expectations or asking for help. It may mean quitting your job or going back to work.
Only you know the answer for your situation. I believe that the answer is pretty clear to most of us, but we push it aside and make excuses for why it’s simply not feasible. Don’t be afraid to try something different. If you are not happy and whole in your way of life, you can’t teach your children to be happy and whole. Finding wholeness and being an example of such to your children is one of the greatest gifts you will ever give them.
This post was originally featured on Allison’s blog, Our Small Hours.